Trippy Flaming Lips Schtick

Coyne and Co. are raining cosmic debris

The Flaming Lips
Steve Eichner/WireImage
The Flaming Lips onstage in Chicago.
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Wayne Coyne sits, sporting a ratty heap of brown, not orange hair and some downright happening Jaggeresque lips. When he speaks, it's clear the 34-year-old mentally skewed, slinksta-cool lead singer and guitarist of the Flaming Lips is trying his damnedest to figure out why folks are suddenly digging his band's music.

"I think a lot of things that we do are pretty normal rock-band kind of things," Coyne says after a millisecond of Thomas Merton-strength contemplation. "I mean, we do quiet songs, we do loud songs - but somewhere in there, people are drawn to the element of childlike images. It borderlines on being retarded in some ways."

This jive talk is typical for Coyne, the gel brain behind the band that's adding a little superfunky cataclysmicrazy kick to MTV's Buzz Bin with "She Don't Use Jelly," a multicolored bubblefest about, well . . . girls, toast, snot, Cher, tangerines and, of course, Vaseline. "Let's face it," Coyne sort of explains, "some of the margarine people eat is virtually yellow grease. It just has a little flavor to it."

Retarded? Often they are, but the Lips have harnessed their rattlebrained rawness and shaped it into a sound - their sound - transcending anything MTV normally test drives. Imagine the Beatles drunk on drugstore wine and Robitussin and jamming on Toys "R" Us instruments, and you've got the Lips pegged. Their specialty is crafting Mighty Morphin pop songs for the Zig-Zag generation, tunes like "Pilot Can at the Queer of God," the thumpacious declaration of love via feedback and screeches on Transmissions From the Satellite Heart, the Lips' seventh album. Coyne elaborates: "We make the music into this sort of capsulized thing, something you can imagine the Bee Gees doing. It's a little like Christmas music: We use the atmosphere of what the song is about to get the point across."

The current band lineup includes drummer Steven Drozd, bassist Michael Ivins and lead guitarist Ronald Jones. Coyne, a former Long John Silver's fry cook extraordinaire, started tinkering with music during his dishwater-dull Oklahoma high-school days, which seem like they were cribbed from a beat-up S.E. Hinton paper-back someone tossed out. "People always came around to see my brothers, and I'd inadvertently hang out," Coyne says. "There were all these loser guys who could play the latest Jeff Beck tune or whatever. I didn't know they were guitar lessons at the time. but there was always someone showing me a cool way to play 'Stairway to Heaven.'"

Lips headquarters have always been located in Oklahoma City, where the state motto is labor omnia vincit labor conquers all things. That's damn near prophetic, seeing that "Jelly" is a hearty little slice from Transmissions, an album that was released nearly two years ago and, weirdly enough, is just starting to reap the attention it deserves.

Maybe all the hoopla now is due to the fact that life is swell, there is a God, and light eventually shines on all things great and small. Or more realistically and altogether provable: The Lips have been together for ages (about 11 years), they absolutely smoked on the second stage at last year's Lollapalooza, and in the past they've been a consistently smashing opening act for heavyweights like Stone Temple Pilots, Porno for Pyros, Throwing Muses, Butthole Surfers and Candlebox.

If all goes according to plan, the Lips will shoot one more video for Transmissions ("Turn It On") before bolting back into the studio a mere five blocks from their home base to hammer out an eighth offering. Until then, Coyne and company haven't got much on their agenda besides doing what they do best: hanging out in Oklahoma and dutifully mastering the fine art of answering probing questions from freshly roused reporters like "Would you rather do Eddie Vedder's laundry or beat him up?" Coyne's answer: "I wouldn't want to beat him up. I've actually seen him, and I probably shouldn't say this, but he's not a tall person." And "Where did Flaming Lips come from?" Answer: "It's such a dumb name that its so arbitrary that it doesn't matter. There are some great band names out there, like Fugazi, where you get an idea what it's about, but its still mysterious enough to make you wonder. But the Flaming Lips? It's just fucking silly."

This story is from the March 9th, 1995 issue of Rolling Stone.

From The Archives Issue 703: March 9, 1995